THE MIRROR OF HUMAN LIFE - new edition
Reflections on François Couperin's Pièces de Clavecin
by Jane Clark and Derek Connon
The titles of François Couperin's harpsichord pieces have puzzled generations of players and listeners. Many refer to theatrical spectacles; others are portraits, sympathetic or satirical, of characters in the composer's circle-courtiers, aristocrats, musicians, actors and actresses.
This book opens a door into Couperin's world. Jane Clark introduces us to some of the characters that inhabit the Pièces de Clavecin, whose lives, sometimes dramatic and even scandalous, are illustrated by quotations from contemporary letters, songs and satirical epigrams. Derek Connon explores the literary and theatrical world in which the composer moved, particularly the rival French and Italian Comédies, the latter with its links to the improvised Commedia dell'Arte. The heart of the book is an analytic catalogue of the individual movements from all 27 Ordres, explaining what is known about the meaning of each title. Even to the composer's contemporaries, not every reference was transparent: where mysteries remain, alternative possible explanations are presented here.
Following its first appearance in 2002, The Mirror of Human Life has become a standard reference source for anyone interested in Couperin's music. A revised and illustrated edition was issued by Keyword in 2011, and Japanese and Polish translations have appeared (2012 and 2014 respectively). This third edition incorporates new facts that have emerged since, particularly about Couperin's attitude to the court of Louis XIV as it had become under the influence of the pious Mme de Maintenon, and the composer's links with the exiled Stuart court at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Jane Clark is well-known as a harpsichord recitalist and music historian; her research into the music of François Couperin has received international recognition.
Derek Connon is Emeritus Professor of French at Swansea University. He has published a number of articles on French theatre from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, as well as an anthology of works from the early opéra-comique of the Parisian Fairs.
’A greater understanding of the topicality of these titles and of the burlesque or satirical tone that lies behind some of them sharpens the music’s effect on our senses. These pieces are not all benign and charming portraits, agreeably presenting the sitters. From them Couperin emerges as a keener critic of his age than at first sight would appear. The tone of irony and satire creates an altogether more complex picture of his musical language and in these portraits we may glimpse much that is missing from the conventional sources about Couperin’s milieu.’
THE NEW GROVE Second Edition, 2001.
Available from www.keyword-press.co.uk